CIH vice president addresses housing and ageing event
CIH vice president Jim Strang was invited to address delegates at Housing and Ageing: Linking Strategy to Future Delivery for Scotland 2030 at the University of Stirling on 2 July. Don’t worry if you missed the event, you can read Jim’s full speech here.
Good morning ladies and gentlemen and may I say how delighted I am being back at Stirling University and, in particular, here at the Iris Murdoch Centre.
It’s always an absolute pleasure to be invited to speak at this internationally renowned University and centre which has, and continues to be, rightly praised for its ground breaking work both on general housing issues and also on the links between housing and health and particularly the specific issues around housing for the elderly.
I am also proud of the part that the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has played in making this research possible.
I’m delighted to be able to outline the role and the views of CIH on these issues and to underline our commitment to our sector, to support our members and the profession by highlighting the issues and lobbying national Governments for solutions in each jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. We also work to equip staff to deliver through our unique, extensive training and career development offer to our members.
My task this morning is to look at how we take what we have learned thus far and how we, in the housing sector, take these issues forward and how we make it all happen.
One of the main conclusions from last week’s CIH national conference in Manchester was that the sector knows we need change and action in the here and now, on a whole host of housing issues and that our communities – the people we are here to serve – can’t always sit back and wait for direct Government intervention or legislation. Sometimes we simply have to get on with it.
Many of our elderly tenants or owners simply can’t wait.
About twenty years ago, I chaired a CIH Scotland sheltered wardens’ conference. The main speaker outlined research which showed the extent of the demographic time bomb and, like so much past research on this issue, this brilliant piece of work was put on the shelf and we are still talking about those same issues today. I don’t know about you, but I frequently get that déjà vu feeling.
This, I’m afraid, is not uncommon in housing policy. Yet everyone in this land, regardless of gender, of race, of economic status or of age should have a place they can call home, where they are safe, where they can live to the full, where they can maximise their full potential. A home is surely a basic human right?
That’s what I believe. I suspect you also agree with this and I know that is the view of the housing sector’s professional body, the CIH.
Yet, ladies and gentlemen, progress has been slow. Progress has been hindered and that needs to change.
Not only because the demographic time bomb of twenty years ago is now detonating but because we have people here and now across all tenures suffering due to them living in the wrong type of accommodation – accommodation that no longer meets their needs – and many are trapped. They are trapped due to there being insufficient housing of the type they need in the area that they need it or from not having access to the financial means to move or adapt their home. For some, their landlords simply do not care.
So we need to act now. We need to ensure the work that you will hear about today doesn’t lie on a shelf and that we unlock the resources required to achieve real and sustainable change.
The most recent Scottish Government population estimates published in April this year show that 19% of the population are aged over 65. At 19% this represents a 3% increase since 2007.
Between 1997 and 2017 those over the age of 75 saw the largest population increase of 31%. The forward trends are that people over 75 will be the fastest growing group in Scotland with a projected 27% increase over the next 10 years and a huge 79% increase over the next 25 years.
We are living longer, we are more active and we are benefiting from improved health care. We will have more people with multiple health needs living longer, many of which can be better managed and some of which can be prevented if we are able to live in accommodation that meets our changing needs.
Older people in this country tend to live in smaller households. By 2039 it is projected that we will have 490,000 people over the age of 65 living alone and we can expect a 139% increase in the number of people over 85 living alone. Yet our stock of houses doesn’t come anywhere near to coping with this future demand.
It is really important that we look at how these households will be distributed as, according to the most recent Scottish Household Survey, 42% of our over 65s live in the owner occupied sector meaning it may be more difficult for them to access the help and support they need.
Many are, and more will become, asset rich and cash poor with growing numbers unable to repair and maintain their home never mind afford any major age or health related alterations. Some 34% live in the social rented sector, or as I prefer to call it, the public housing sector, and some 11% in the private rented sector – arguably the worst off in terms of accessing help in my view.
Another important aspect is the current accessibility or availability of suitable accessible housing.
In 2017, a report by the University of the West of Scotland, Alzheimer’s Scotland and the Building Research Establishment found that there is an uneven provision of older people’s housing throughout Scotland.
The Scottish Government statistics show that housing associations provide more sheltered housing than Scotland’s local authorities. Just over 21,000 sheltered or very sheltered homes and owned and operated by housing associations compared to some 15,000 provided by Scotland’s 32 local authorities.
And to demonstrate just how unsustainable our current housing stock is, a report produced this year by Horizon Housing Association, supported by CIH Scotland called Still Minding the Step indicated that of the estimated 88,000 wheelchair users in Scotland, around one in four say that their current home is not suitable for their needs. The report adds that an estimated 17,200 households including wheelchair users across our land are in “significant” housing need.
The CIH Housing and Dementia project has been working to improve the links between housing organisations and our health and social care partners to help housing professionals meet the needs of people living with dementia and their families.
I don’t need to detail to this audience the impact this condition has on individuals and their families.
This project has produced a practitioner guide called Dementia Pathways: Housing’s role which sets out to enable housing staff to spot the early signs of dementia, support instances of early diagnosis and some really simple adaptations that can be made to people’s homes to enable them to remain in their home longer. The work done here at the Iris Murdock Centre has been key to this guide.
The public housing sector has many examples of how it has been able to respond to the need for aids and adaptations. The Sottish Household Survey shows that 35% of households report that someone in their home has a long term illness and 9% state that an adaptation to their home would make their life a lot easier and allow them to stay in their home for longer.
The funding for such adaptations is far from standard throughout the land and whilst funding issues have been raised – particularly between tenures – the waiting time for getting the required adaptation, the complexity of how to get it and the limited funding available are all either too long, overly restrictive or in some areas, the funding is simply not available when it is needed.
Whilst these issues were acknowledged by the Adaptations Working Group (AWG) set up by the Scottish Government and reported on in 2012 – some 6 years ago now – nothing has really changed.
Despite a 2014 Adapting for Change pilot programme being established to test some of the key aspects of the AWG recommendations and an evaluation being published in 2017, it is still not clear how these will be taken forward. We also expect a refresh of the Scottish Government’s Age Home and Community Strategy to be published soon – but we don’t know when.
The issue of loneliness and isolation has been around for many years and isn’t only restricted to elderly people. But the Scottish Government has, to be fair, recently focussed on these issues.
These issues for many elderly, and indeed disabled people, can be the cause for much distress and can have an adverse affect on mental health. We know that the effect of loneliness and isolation can be the same as someone smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.
CIH Scotland recently highlighted these issues in response to a Scottish Government consultation by calling for:
- Clear recognition of what we, as a sector, are doing now to reduce loneliness. There is a lot of good work that needs to be recognised and supported so that it can continue and be expanded.
- A clear commitment to public housing to help keep rents low and allow further sector investment and for direct funding to help support projects designed to alleviate loneliness - the cuts to Local Government funding are now so extreme that they are causing real hardship for many.
- A commitment to explore alternative housing support models and to provide funding for them – let us learn from other countries and put funding into them!
- And a commitment for the Scottish Government to do all it can to mitigate the worst aspects of the so called “welfare reform programme” which is the means being used to fund the current Westminster Government’s austerity plans.
From what I have said thus far, you can see my frustrations. We have reports, we have research, yet we still haven’t as a community fully committed to making the decisions we need to make to tackle the problems and ultimately make the difference.
Yes, we have a strong commitment to social housing here in Scotland but it’s being driven by a numbers game – not the right homes in the right places.
For me, the time has come to be absolutely clear as a sector, as a country, we can’t delay making the decisions we need to make. We need to get on with it. After all, we in this room are getting older by the day! And so many – too many – of our people are suffering this day and if we agree that good quality, affordable housing is a basic human right, then it is time, ladies and gentlemen, to rise to the challenge. We know the links between good housing and good physical and mental health outcomes.
So here are my asks, or should I say my demands!
When we build, no matter what the tenure, we should be building for whole life use so that homes can be easily adapted as people’s needs change.
The state should fund all adaptations that are required to allow people to remain in their homes for as long as possible.
Measures are needed to make it easier for older people to downsize by creating incentives to make it easier to move. This should include specific grants to allow housing associations to buy out owner occupiers, creating more public housing.
The public sector needs to be properly funded to build more specialist homes, like sheltered accommodation.
Services for older people need to be put on a permanent and sustainable footing to provide personalised support packages, we need to restore ringfencing and Supporting People budgets.
We need to end the farce of brilliant third sector support projects having to jump over hurdles to compete for a limited pot of money.
I know the cry will be, “we can’t afford it!” I now the cry will be, “there are competing requests!” I know this, but can we - as a society - afford not to resolve this? If not for those living in the here and now, most assuredly for all of our futures.
So I ask you all to stand with me now, to rise to the challenge. Don’t take no for an answer. Our combined voices can - and I feel will - prevail.